Two current projects from a collaboration between Clemson University’s School of Computing and College of Education aim to bring artificial intelligence into schools. The teams behind these projects are looking to bring more personalized learning to teachers and students through examining teachers’ professional development and students’ awareness of cybersecurity.
In one project, Clemson professors Nathan McNeese and Bart Knijnenburg — faculty in the human-centered computing division in Clemson’s School of Computing — are part of a team that is crafting a recommender system that will assist teachers in professional development. Jeff Marshall, associate dean of research and graduate programs in the College of Education serves as principal investigator. The project’s idea is similar to Netflix’s recommendation system for movies or shows, or to Spotify’s recommendations for music. The team’s program would recommend additional continuing education opportunities to teachers.
McNeese says the process begins when the team examines the teacher’s current skill set.
“We give [the teachers] that survey, we take that data, and then we organize that data into a database, and we create an algorithm to understand the best potential professional development recommendation for them based on that data,” he says. “And that’s what the recommender system is — it’s that algorithm that’s taking that data, it’s weighting that data, it’s looking at the relationships amongst that data to provide a recommendation.”
The team says this may be the first time something like this has been developed.
“It has the potential to be very high impact, because it will allow teachers a multitude of options for professional development in a meaningful way that’s based on what they want and need, which is not necessarily the norm right now,” says McNeese.
In a second project, Knijnenburg and Kelly Caine, associate professor of human-centered computing, are developing a math course that introduces concepts of cybersecurity to middle school students, specifically teaching them how AI is used to build algorithms to track their movements online. Nicole Bannister, associate professor of education at Clemson, is the project’s PI.
“We realized that the probably the best way to kind of inform people about these threats is to get them while they’re young. Right? That’s the idea,” says Knijnenburg of his fellow researchers.
Knijnenburg explains that U.S. privacy laws protect those younger than 13, so by focusing on middle-school-aged students, the course can educate them before they have their online activities traced.
“They should be aware of how algorithms are tracking their behaviors and making inferences about their behaviors,” Knijnenburg says.
The module is in its very first phases, with the team still looking to put a program in front of students. The project will have input from teachers and students on what math will be used and how the concepts will be delivered.
“We are going to be focused on not only picking children who are really good at math,” says Clemson Ph.D. student Shahan Iqbal.
Amy Apon, the C. Tycho Howle Director of the School of Computing, said in a statement that both the recommender system and the middle-school math modules underscore how researchers are using AI to address real-world problems.
“Researchers in the School of Computing are working across disciplines to apply artificial intelligence to a broad range of applications aimed at strengthening education, industry and individual well-being,” Apon says. “The research we do provides our students with a tremendous opportunity to work on the cutting edge of technology in a fast-growing field. Their experiences prepare them for the AI workforce of the future.”